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Richhill ATM theft accused has bail varied to attend course in Liverpool

"They hope to set up a business when they return," the defence explained.

ATM stolen at Fruitfield in Richhill
The scene at Fruitfield filling station last year.

An Armagh man accused of using a digger to steal an ATM in Richhill has had his bail conditions varied to attend a course in Liverpool.

Sean-Paul Donnelly, of Navan Street, appeared before Armagh Magistrates’ Court, sitting at Newry Courthouse.

The 23-year-old is charged with three counts of theft, arson, criminal damage, possessing a firearm in suspicious circumstances and possessing a handgun without a certificate.

The charges relate to the theft of an ATM machine using a digger at Fruitfield filling station last December.

At the outset of the hearing, a defence solicitor told Deputy District Judge Ievers that an application was being made to vary Donnelly’s bail conditions, which the police had no objections to.

He explained that the variation was for the defendant to attend a six-day course in Liverpool with the hope of setting up a business on his return.

Judge Ievers said she was “content” to allow the bail variation.

She said: “Mr Donnelly… Your bail conditions are being varied to allow you to attend the course and you will be back before the court on the 8th of August, hopefully for an update in relation to the file.”

The case was initially heard last December, when a court was told the well-planned and orchestrated attack took less than 60 seconds to carry out.

Opposing bail at the time, Pat Vernor of the Organised Crime Unit in Belfast, said he believed Donnelly was “a committed member of an organised crime gang”.

Mr Vernor, outlining the details, told the court that at around 4.45am on December 20 police received a report of an attack alarm at the ATM machine at the Fruitfield SuperValu.

The court heard how the digger was stolen from across the road, driven right across the forecourt and smashed into the ATM annex, which had been specially built following an attack in 2020.

Said Mr Vernor: “They’ve driven up and smashed the building to bits. A white Ford Transit has pulled up alongside, which appears to be pulling an Ifor Williams styled large trailer. The digger is then used and it was with some expertise that the ATM is just scooped up and placed into the back of the trailer.

“The driver of the Ford Transit exits the vehicle, goes around to the digger, sets it on fire and they make good their escape from the forecourt. This, quite literally, happened within the space of 60 seconds, giving police some indication that this was the actions of a professional group that know what they’re at.”

The ATM machine was fitted with a tracker and police from the armed response unit were guided into the vicinity of the Moy Road as a result.

Upon arrival armed units disturbed two males in the process of angle grinding the ATM machine. They made off on foot into the fields when they spotted the police.

Further enquiries found a black BMW located at Grange Road in Armagh. Bleach was found inside, as well as a receipt for top-up payment to Firmus gas.

The account was checked and came back as the confirmed home address of Donnelly – Navan Street, Armagh. It was dated, December 19 – less than 24 hours before the ATM incident.

Mr Vernor said the site at which the ATM and Ford Transit were recovered was connected to defendant through his grandparents.

Searches were carried out at Donnelly’s house in Armagh, as well as his mum’s in another location in the city.

In Donnelly’s home, police found a receipt for the BMW X5, with the same registration, that had been purchased in September 2022.

Mr Vernor said: “During the course of his interview, [Donnelly] indicated that he had sold this vehicle a week prior to the incident. He was unable to tell us who this person was. When we conducted the search of the vehicle we’ve located a Firmus receipt linked to that property, so it’s the police position that although he’s widely answered some questions we believe he’s been deceitful.”

He added: “Further to this, we then located a key to what we believe to be a Ford vehicle. In interview the defendant has indicated that it was for either a recovery lorry or tipper lorry and he said that he doesn’t have it anymore. We took that key to the Ford Transit which has been stored at the police station and it was the key for that vehicle [believed to be involved in the ATM incident].

“That key was located in the kitchen of the property…which is where we find this imitation handgun.

“It appears to be some sort of a gas-powered BB gun, but it was hidden behind a microwave which is what we find suspicious. The property itself has the capacity to be barricaded with what appears to be a 3-4 inch by 4 inch steel beam across the front door. Under his pillow there was a hatchet. At the sofa there was a telescopic baton. So [we have] serious concerns about the background to this young individual.”

Mr Vernor said there was also a recently arrived package which contained a T-8000 bug tracker sweeping device which the investigation team believe “has been bought by the defendant for the purposes of scanning the ATMs or vehicles”.

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